By Liam Maher
This is the first post in a series written by students who have worked on various parts of the MARBLE project.
Liam Maher, an alumnus of Notre Dame and current graduate student at the University of Oregon, assisted in the clean-up of exhibition history records for the Snite Museum of Art in preparation for publishing the collections online in the MARBLE platform. Liam’s process included verifying the paper exhibition files against digital records in the museum’s internal collection database while also consulting Hesburgh Libraries’ resources and publications.
Metadata is to museums as the skeleton is to the human form
When I tell people I do metadata cleanup for an art museum, I am usually met with quizzical looks. Few people think of computer systems, let alone organizing them, as integral to the functioning of an art museum.
A museum’s metadata, or information about its objects, is akin to the human skeleton—it gives form to the “body” of the museum and the many things contained therein. Like a misplaced or broken bone, messy data can result in lots of complications. And, inaccurate metadata, such as an incorrect artist attribution, improper dimensions, or wrong media, can spell disaster for an object and its maintenance.
Nine decades of records reveal strong local, national and international connections
Over the summer, I worked with metadata that chronicles the history of exhibitions held at or organized by the Snite Museum of Art. The records span over a nearly ninety-year period, going back to the days when the Snite Museum of Art was simply known as the “Art Gallery.”
I digitized roughly 214 exhibitions from the Snite’s files. As I reviewed the files, it became abundantly clear that the Snite has been a valuable asset for the community, with connections to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, High Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Louvre that go back as far as 1950.
Such ties have brought priceless works by artists of international acclaim to South Bend. The Snite has and continues to serve as a cultural bridge from Notre Dame to the global art community, providing access to some of the world’s greatest treasures.
Online collections expand global access and impact
The Snite hopes to continue this tradition by increasing its reach through its online presence.
Updated metadata for exhibitions and objects will enable the Snite to launch an online collections site. New features will allow visitors to view the collections more in-depth and immerse themselves in exhibitions from days-gone-by.
Both scholars and casual visitors to the Snite will appreciate being able to more fully understand the institution’s history and the part it has played in the global art scene.
Looking back. Looking ahead.
When I first started this position, it was easy to get lost in the seemingly endless stacks of files, mysterious cabinets full of unsorted papers, and loose sheets with scribbled notes that somehow corresponded with one of the 900 exhibitions on file at the Snite.
Keeping our team’s long-term goal in mind, however, has been a helpful means for understanding the importance of digital scholarship.
Every digitized collection requires months of planning and development, usable and flexible metadata, and meticulous editing and updating information. The opportunity to participate in this process has given me valuable insight into how museums stay relevant in an increasingly digital age.